Episode Fifteen: Dr. Kathryn Will and Dr. Robin D Johnson “The Importance of Social and Emotional Learning for Teachers: Impact on Learning Communities”

Jun 24, 12:00 AM
My guests in this episode are Dr. Kathryn Will, Assistant Professor of Literacy education in the University of Maine, Farmington in the USA and Dr. Robin D. Johnston, who is Associate Professor and field based experience coordinator, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, USA. I was very fortunate to meet both Kathryn and Robin a couple of years ago at the Clinical Fellows symposium in the States at the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE)  in Atlanta in 2019 and again in Atlantic City in February 2020. Clinical Fellows started in 2015 with the Association of Teacher Educators in the United States and the purpose of it was to really focus on the value of clinical experiences to support the way professors within teacher education and administrators approach clinical practice/ school practicum. Clinical Fellows offers practitioners an opportunity to meet and make connections, network and share experiences. For me it was one of the most energising experiences I have ever had and wasn’t like a conference at all because it was wholly participative in nature and participant led and focused.  It's all about facilitation “is not a sit and get opportunity, but instead, it is inquiry. It is the use of protocols, equity of voice in conversations and it's just incredibly generative in nature”. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to interview both Kathryn and Robin for the podcast and to discuss teacher education and teacher preparation with them.

In the podcast we focus on Clinical Practice in teacher education in the US and the importance of social and emotional learning for teachers, both practising and pre-service. They mention the importance of communities and how “it's not just about the academic content. It's not about just preparing the future teachers to consider what are the standards, how do we use curriculum or how do we plan instructional practices, but instead, it's about the community, the community within the classroom, the community within the school, the community within a larger area, town, city, whatever it might be”. Kathryn mentions how we all have to come back to ourselves first as teacher educators, and who we are, what our positionality is and “how who we are impacts what we do”. She also says that “if you talk to teachers, they know that social emotional learning is the absolute key to what we do, you cannot ask a child to do Math if their needs have not been met”. She talks about how she designed a course in her teacher education programme in the last year, called social emotional learning which was framed around the Casel framework. The Casel ‘five’ as they're known, are self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making relationship skills and social awareness. “It's all about taking ownership of yourself so that you can then expand out and grow, they build upon one another, my greatest learning in the last year, was just how much the future teachers needed to think about this for themselves before we could actually talk about what it was going to look like in the classroom, that became very apparent”.

Robin talks about trans-literacy which is one of her research interests. This stemmed originally from the writing she does as sustainable professional development. About six years ago, she came upon the term of ‘trans-literacy’ which she defines as the fluidity of movement across a range of textbook technologies medias and contacts, which six years ago didn't mean as much even as it does today. She goes on to describe how;
“And part of my oral language development course was, of course, the difference between academic language, formal language, and casual, you know, informal language and how our schools have this formal language, you know, kind of the school rules, versus our home has an playground and friend experiences have this more, you know, casual language, and understanding how to help students bridge the two, because trans-literacy is really defined by the situational, social, cultural and technological context, which to me is the heart of like the sociology of education, it really is about, you know, there's another term for what we call simultaneous literacy, where you're having to navigate all of those literacy and communication techniques and figure out what's going to work where your audience is, what the purpose is, and really understanding those contexts”.

We discuss a number of sociology of education theoretical approaches, including Bandura’s teacher efficacy, the zone of proximal development and the ways in which having strong mentors (cooperating teachers, site professors, teacher educators) to help learn through these processes is a critical piece. “And we come back to that clinical practice experience, we come back to the opportunities to learn side by side”, pre-service teachers and teacher educators. We also discuss the concept of teacher educators as experts and how in fact that the teacher educators are not the only expert, that the classroom teacher is equally an expert, as is our student who's with us in the classroom, “how they have those lived experiences, how they have that funds of knowledge that they're bringing to the understanding, sometimes they are able to better grasp what's going on with the child than I am”. Kathryn refers to this as a mindset of humility, as “I'm in those clinical experiences, as I have the opportunities to walk into the classrooms, and learn with my students. And I think that brings it, you know, this idea of third space, where we're all coming together…And I think that the ways in which I'm trying to work in teacher education, there really is that opportunity to learn from and learn in practice that's really aligned with the sociology”. Preparation of teachers has changed globally and where previously “it was a case of now go forth and try your best. I mean, that's really what it was like..” now it is a more equitable co-construction where the roles of the cooperating classroom teacher, the pre-service teacher and the Higher Education/University are interlinked as professional experts working together.

Robin says that for her one of the most important things is staying in that continual Lifelong Learning Mode, “because I do think we all have so much more that we can learn from each other, again, as we said, the importance of Clinical Fellows, and, you know, meeting with people hearing, having those discussions, talking about that classroom, learning from our colleagues, and then modelling that to our students”. Clinical Fellows informs how we talk to our future teachers “about how important that collegial collegiality and that networking in that finding your person, and your people who share that passion with you” and how as “we move forward in this new world and, and learn what's gonna work best for us, which is that social and emotional piece..”, and “what I've seen of my students, it is just as much if not more important than the academic pieces at times, you know, there has to be that balance. But we can't forget about that”. Robin concludes by saying how  we have to make social and emotional learning a priority, and “be intentional in every class, to develop that mindfulness to develop that awareness to develop those self-care techniques”.

“Because there is so much to do in the teaching world, that it'll get pushed to the one side if we don't make it intentional..”, very important words here from Robin for us all.

It was an incredible privilege for me to attend two very empowering and energising Clinical Fellows symposia in the US. As a Clinical Fellow and I look forward to returning to the US for the next face to face Clinical Fellows symposium as soon as it is safe to travel. I look forward to meeting other clinical fellows and networking in a different global space discussing our ongoing work as teacher educators, the challenges, the wins and the opportunities and most of all of learning from wonderful practitioners including Robin and Kathryn from whom I have learned so much and to whom I am very grateful for their generosity of spirit and invitation to join the conversation about clinical practice. 

Listen in to hear more!